Upstate school districts brace for spike in COVID cases after holiday break

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA)–Although students and teachers are enjoying some time off for Christmas break, districts across the Upstate are keeping a close eye on what could happen in the New Year.

Just before Pickens County schools let out for winter break, they had several staff cases of coronavirus.

“At this moment we have about 120 employees out who have tested positive, so that’s a big increase over a short amount of time,” John Eby, spokesperson for Pickens County Schools, said.

The district was on the brink of not having enough staff to hold in- person classes.

“We hope that there’s not another spike like there was after Thanksgiving. When we’re coming back from Christmas break that could jeopardize things,” he said.

Eby said there’s a lot contributing to this, including exactly who is sick.

“There’s the numbers aspect to it, but then there’s what is that person’s role, do they have to be in person can we find a substitute for them,” Eby said.

DHEC named Pickens County with the highest cases in the state per capita earlier this week. But the district isn’t alone in this struggle.

“We’ve had days where principals, administrators, people from the district office have had to go out to schools and teach a classroom,” Tim Waller, spokesperson for Greenville County Schools, said.

Waller said although they’re not seeing cases spread in schools, they’re prepared for what comes after the holidays.

“Maybe the second week of January is when we think is the highest probability that we think we could see an increase of cases in schools,” Waller said.

Staffing has been an issue there as well.

“We started with the new school year down nearly 300 substitute teachers that we needed to hire,” Waller said.

And although students will be away from the classroom until early January, districts are encouraging everyone to stay diligent.

“I encourage people to follow CDC guidelines in terms of taking precautions because really our in person school depends on it,” Eby said.

“Anything the health experts have said could lead to a spike or a spread in cases could have a detrimental effect on our ability to have school,” Waller said.

Both districts say they will be monitoring students and staff carefully as we head into the new year.

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